Mourning the Loss of Muhammad Ali

Current Events, Exploring HeinOnline, Law Journal Library, Statutes at Large, U.S. Federal Legislative History
Shannon Furtak

On June 3, a legend passed away, leaving much of the world in mourning.

Muhammad Ali — born Cassius Clay, and known fondly as The Greatest, The Champ, The People's Champion, and The Louisville Lip — was widely regarded as one of the most celebrated and controversial sports figures of the 20th century.  This excellent biographical obituary from describes his early life, his boxing career, and his larger-than-life presence in the world.

Ali fought battles both inside and out of the boxing ring. He rose to worldwide fame after winning a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics, but returned home to a nation divided over civil rights and plagued by segregation and racism. Thus began his affiliation with the Nation of Islam, some of whose members preached against white power, even calling white people "the devil." He changed his name from Cassius Clay and in doing so, freed himself "from the identity given to my family by my slavemasters." After joining the Nation of Islam, he often made strong, inflammatory remarks, leading some to accuse Ali of being racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. As he grew older and matured, his views and beliefs changed dramatically. According to this piece from Piers Morgan, Ali morphed from "angry firebrand activity to public advocate for global peace and harmony."

Perhaps Muhammad Ali's most important fight came when he spoke out against the Vietnam War before the antiwar movement had gained nationwide popularity. He applied for, and was denied, classification as a conscientious objector and refused to join the military despite national outrage and the loss of millions of dollars in endorsement money. He did not report for duty during the draft, and was tried and convicted of willful refusal to submit to induction. He was stripped of his titles and banned from boxing for three years.  He appealed, lost, and eventually his case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark ruling in Ali's favor, the Court determined that Ali's previous conviction was flawed because the Appeal Board "gave no reasons for its denial of the petitioner's claims." In order to be classified as a conscientious objector, three criteria must be met:

  • He must show that he is conscientiously opposed to war in any form
  • He must show that this opposition is based upon religious training and belief
  • He must show that his objection is sincere

Chief Justice Hughes said, "It is impossible to say under which clause of the statute the conviction was obtained"; thus, "if any of the clauses in question is invalid under the Federal Constitution, the conviction cannot be upheld."

Ali went on to win 12 of his next 13 boxing matches, and he became the first fighter to win the world heavyweight boxing title three times. Later in his life, he became a social activist, putting his name to initiatives for peace and humanitarian aid, as well as by donating millions of dollars to multiple individuals and organizations dedicated to breaking race and class barriers. He was appointed the United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998.

Get the full text of Clay, aka Ali v. United States, 403 U.S. 698 in HeinOnline. This case has been cited by more than 150 scholarly law review articles and nearly 120 cases. Ali also fought against abuse of boxers by means of exploitation, rigged rankings, and rigged matches, eventually influencing the passage of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (PL# 106-210), which is available in HeinOnline's U.S. Statutes at Large library.

A search for "Muhammad Ali" OR "Cassius Clay" in the Law Journal Library produces more than 1200 results, many referencing Clay, aka Ali v. United States or the Boxing Reform Act. The U.S. Federal Legislative History Library contains Congress and Boxing: A Legislative History*, which provides an extensive legislative chronology of both the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 and the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. To access this title, enter the U.S. Federal Legislative History Library and select Browse by Publication title:

Select letter C, and scroll down to Congress and Boxing: A Legislative History:

Muhammad Ali's impact on the sport of boxing and the world in general cannot be disputed, and his presence will surely be missed.

For help researching this topic in HeinOnline, please contact our dedicated support team at (800) 277-6995, email us, or chat with us. We look forward to working with you!

*Congress and Boxing: A Legislative History is available in print here. From now until December 31, ALL proceeds from the sale of this print set will be donated to the Barrow Neurological Foundation's Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center

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